For the second game in a row, the Buffalo Bulls (5-6, 4-3 MAC) collapsed under the weight of sudden adversity, building up a 24-10 lead against the Kent State Golden Flashes (5-7, 4-4 MAC) with 4:36 remaining in the third quarter before falling in the first overtime period by a final score of 30-24 on Saturday afternoon.
True freshman Tommy Ulatowski was Kent State’s knight in shining armor, coming in late in the fourth quarter and leading KSU to three quick scoring drives, finishing 6-of-11 for 102 yards and a touchdown through the air, and picking up 28 yards on four carries on the ground to extend drives.
If it sounds familiar, it should.
Saturday’s box score holds an eerie resemblance to Buffalo’s game against Central Michigan in their last contest, where they held a 24-7 halftime lead on the road before losing 31-27 after Bert Emanuel Jr. came in at QB in the second half and scored three touchdowns to help complete the upset.
All credit goes to the Flashes, however, as they did what they needed to do to set themselves up for a potential victory in a game where, by the numbers, they likely had no business winning.
The contest started off simply enough, with both teams utilizing long drives to score field goals, with Andrew Glass’ 24-yard kick ending an 11-play, 68-yard drive lasting over four minutes, while Alex McNulty would finish a 14-play, 46-yard response with a 47-yard field goal of his own.
The teams continued to keep pace throughout the second quarter, exchanging rushing touchdowns to put the margin at 10-10 at halftime, with backup quarterback Matt Myers getting a one-yard rushing score for Buffalo and Marquez Cooper scoring from 21 yards out to add on to the scoring accounts.
The third quarter is where the game started to turn on its head.
Collin Schlee, who started at QB for Kent State despite being questionable for concussion-like symptoms, was pulled out of the game in favor of true freshman Devin Kargman. Kargman struggled to get the offense moving, with Kargman responsible for 13 yards of total offense.
Buffalo took advantage of the leadership change, turning the start-of-half possession into a touchdown drive, moving 60 yards downfield over eight plays before Matt Myers, who was finding success with the QB option run package, ran in from 16 yards out to put the Bulls back up front 17-10 with 11:12 remaining.
The defense forced an immediate three-and-out, and once again, the Bulls would find success on the Flashes defense, utilizing the Myers run package to set up Cole Snyder on a first-and-10 from the KSU 30-yard line to spin out of pressure and throw across his body in the direction of Quian Williams, who was brought down at the KSU one-yard line.
Myers would cross the goal line for a hat trick on the next play, putting Buffalo up 24-10.
The Kent State defense managed to hold on and force a Buffalo punt early in the fourth quarter after the offense had yet another three-and-out punt on the prior possession, but the Flashes could not take advantage of the 16-yard kick, as Devin Kargman’s fourth tipped pass of the day would turn into an interception by defensive lineman Daymond Williams.
Buffalo stalled out on offense despite the short field, with Kesean Gamble and Nico Bolden stuffing Matt Myers on third-and-two to force a tough 33-yard kick into the wind for Alex McNulty. The usually sure-footed placekicker missed, with the wind forcing the kick short and to the left, giving Kent State new life.
Enter Tommy Ulatowski, the true freshman from St. Rita High School in Chicago, Illinois.
The six-foot-two, 181 lb. former dual-sport athlete had a few misfires to start, with his second pass attempt bouncing right off the head of Buffalo defensive back Isaiah King and nearly falling into the hands of another UB defender, but when he got on target, Ulatowski made Buffalo pay.
On second-and-eight from the Kent State 42-yard line, Ulatowski fired a pass deep down the right sideline in the direction of Devontez Walker, who fought through pass interference to come down with the reception, putting them at the Buffalo 16-yard line.
Three plays later, on a fourth-and-four attempt at the Buffalo 10-yard line, Ulatowski rolled out right, sneaked a toss to Ja’Shaun Poke going the other way, and Poke would take it to the house, bringing the score to 24-16 in favor of UB with 5:58 remaining.
Buffalo started to grind down the clock on the following drive, with Mike Washington Jr. finding 11 yards and a first-down conversion on the first two plays before getting stuffed at the line on his third carry. Buffalo opted to pass on second down, with Cole Snyder finding Washington Jr. for a six-yard gain. It was all for naught, however, as Khalil Sanders sacked Cole Snyder on the third-down pass attempt for a loss of five yards.
Kent State would re-possess the ball with just under three minutes remaining, and go straight to work.
Tommy Ulatowski fired off a 15-yard pass to Devontez Walker on the first play of the drive, then he and Marquez Cooper would have an eight-yard run apiece to get the next series of downs. After two incompletions, Ulatowski once again found just enough yards for a conversion, picking up 11 yards with his feet to advance to the Buffalo 34-yard line.
Ulatowski would then find fellow underclassman Trell Harris for a nine-yard reception and a 24-yard reception on back-to-back passes to set up KSU at the two-yard line. Marquez Cooper would then burst through the line to put the score at 24-22 with 1:00 remaining, pending the extra point attempt.
The first attempt would fail, but a flag for defensive pass interference on Isaiah King in the back of the endzone granted Kent State a second chance. The Flashes would convert on the next play, with Ja’Shaun Poke rolling over the goal line after hauling in the Ulatowski pass to tie the game at 24-all.
Buffalo got the ball back on the last possession to try and set up a field goal, but as they crossed into Kent State territory with about 20 seconds to go, Mike Washington Jr. fumbled an eight-yard reception, with the ball dribbling forward into the waiting hands of Kent State’s CJ Harris.
Buffalo would force overtime on the sack of Ulatowski by Shaun Dolac as time expired.
The Bulls took the first possession of the overtime period, and immediately started off on the wrong foot, with Cole Snyder fumbling the first snap for loss of yards, following that up with an incomplete pass on second-and-14. Snyder would find Quian Williams once again for a major conversion on third-and-14, gifting Buffalo the ball at the KSU 12-yard line.
They ultimately had to settle for a field goal after the Flashes defense held strong against two runs and an endzone shot, with Alex McNulty making up for an earlier miss with a 33-yard kick to put Buffalo up 27-24.
The Flashes rode on the back of Marquez Cooper as far as he would take them, with rushes of nine yards, seven yards and two yards setting them up inside the Buffalo seven-yard line.
On second-and-goal, from the seven-yard line, Tommy Ulatowski faked the handoff to Cooper, then rolled right as if to scramble, before setting his feet down and tossing the ball to Devontez Walker in the back-right corner of the endzone, completing an unbelievable 20-3 comeback rally to win the game.
Walker (five catches, 84 yards, one score) and Cooper (30 rushes, 145 yards, two scores) starred for the Kent State skill positions, with Trell Harris (five catches, 52 yards) also coming up big. Starting QB Collin Schlee was the second-leading rusher with 44 yards early.
JoJo Evans and Nico Bolden led the KSU defensive effort with 11 tackles apiece, while Savion Davis collected 2.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass break-up on the day. Montre Miller had two pass break-ups on the day.
For Buffalo, it was their quarterbacks who paced the play.
Matt Myers, last year’s starting QB, was effective in the run-option package, leading the UB rushing game with 109 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Cole Snyder led the passing game, going 20-of-28 for 165 yards.
Al-Jay Henderson was in line for feature back duties with the absence of Ron Cook Jr., and dominated the first half for carries, finishing with 12 carries for 41 yards and three receptions for 28 yards before leaving with an injury of his own. Mike Washington finished with 40 carries on 12 carries in his stead, with a fumble on a reception.
Quian Williams led receivers with four catches for 63 yards.
Shaun Dolac once again led all tacklers with 14 stops (nine solo) with a sack and a tackle-for-loss. James Patterson had 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a half-sack. Isaiah King had three pass break-ups to lead a unit which broke up eight total passes, while Damian jackson picked up a solo sack and Daymond Williams had an interception.
For Kent State, they finish their season at 5-7 overall, but more importantly, finish the conference season at 4-4, maintaining a .500+ win percentage for the fourth-straight year.
For Buffalo, they are now in the midst of a three-game losing streak after starting the league slate at 4-0, and now sit at 5-6 overall. They now have to get ready to play a previously postponed contest with the Akron Zips, who won their game against Northern Illinois in blow-out fashion on Friday afternoon.